McDonalds, Germs, and the Zealot

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Erin Carr-Jordan went to a McDonald’s with her children this summer, and was horrified by the condition of the restaurant’s play area. The professor of child development then set out to shame the McDonald’s into cleaning up, posting a video she made showing her findings and the lab results of samples she took, showing a space teeming with pathogens and bacteria.

McDonald’s corporate finally got into the act, agreeing with the mother and explaining to the Los Angeles Times that the conditions were “unacceptable, completely unacceptable … but not reflective of our business and our restaurants” and that the company had “immediate corrective action to thoroughly sanitize the PlayPlace.” That might have qualified as a victory for most moms, but not Prof. Carr-Jordan. She began a full-fledged crusade, investigating McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants in 11 different states in recent months to test them for cleanliness. These were her family vacations: “Kids, forget about Walt Disney World. We’re going to spend the next three weeks going to  filthy fast food joints!”  What fun. She swabbed  at each location and sent the samples off to a microbiology professor who analyzed the samples and usually stated his results as “OH—MY—GOD!!!!”

Recently, a visitor came to her house to deliver a letter from the attorneys representing the owner of  the original filthy McDonald’s informing her  that she was prohibited from entering any of his eleven McDonald’s…ever. He is within his rights, but consumers take note: there was a problem with the initial establishment Carr-Jordan visited, and if he cared about his customers, he should have sent her a bouquet of roses. She did him a favor…and, of course, every parent and child that might have been tempted to use the play area.

As for me, I don’t need any swabs to tell me that such places are the fast food equivalents of Typhoid Mary. Can you imagine what lurks in those ball pits? I don’t even like to think about it. And unless you hosed down the play areas every 15 minutes, I can’t see how they could ever be made safe from bacteria. I think a “play at your own risk” sign should be sufficient, as long as the proprietor doesn’t allow the bacterial equivalent of broken glass to linger.

Yes, Carr-Jordan is a zealot, and clearly wants to make certain that all play areas are too much trouble, so parents and kids have no options at all. Drawing attention to one sub-par McDonald’s is a public service; becoming a one-woman truth squad aimed at the chain…is it a service, or is it persecution? We know where this is headed, don’t we? We’ve seen it before: Carr-Jordan will soon have a group of concerned parents,m doctors and germaphobes demanding that play areas are sterile enough to eat pasta out of the ball pits, and some bureaucrat will have new and burdensome regulations installed to deal with a problem that nobody previously thought was a problem, probably after Congressional hearings that our courageous representatives will eager hold to avoid dealing with the deficit. Next McDonald’s will raise its prices to pay for the now bacteria-free play areas, then get sued by some parent who claims that her daughter got Ebola from a plastic Hamburgler. The suit will be a bust, but corporate will decide that the play areas, originally installed so that parents of small children could munch their Big Macs in relative peace, are no longer worth the expense and maintenance. Voila! No more play areas, no more germ tests, no play, no more peace.

Thanks a bunch, Prof. Carr-Jordan!

No, I’m not prepared to declare this mother unethical for carrying her concerns to extremes, but there are unethical aspects to her crusade. I think that there should be minimal standards of cleanliness in play areas, but I also think that parents should be able to make their own decisions about the dangers involved, and that when a utility that cannot both exist and be perfect is driven to extinction by someone demanding perfection, the ethical virtue of proportion is lacking.

The Arizona McDonald’s was unfair to ban her. Carr-Jordan’s conduct poses a tougher ethical question: when does seeking to make conditions better cause more harm than good? The only conclusion I can state with certainty is that you are not going to get the answer from the zealot doing the seeking.

18 thoughts on “McDonalds, Germs, and the Zealot

  1. Jack,
    I actually thought about correcting it but then I thought, “Surely someone so familiar with typographical errors and temporary lapses in cognition won’t be a tool about it.” Apparently I was wrong.

    PS: While, Misophobia might be an acceptable way of describing irrational fear of a particular kind of Japanese soup, it would be incorrect to call it an irrational fear of ALL Japanese soup.

    • The definition is true, but it’s not complete. “Misophobic=germophobic” is just wrong.
      When a typo actually changes meaning, it had to be noted. I went to check the story to see if the play areas had been contaminated by seaweed and tofu broth.

  2. Jack,
    As there’s no such thing as “misophobia,” there is, likewise, no way a reasonable man would have been confused by my meaning unless they were unfamiliar with “mysophobia” altogether. Thus, either you’re intentionally giving me a hard time (since you know me well enough to know it was likely an honest mistake) or are trying to justify mocking someone for the kind of mistake you make all the time (which is arguably worse since you CAN edit your posts). Either way, I’m hurt and genuinely confused.


    • Silly comment, If someone makes a non-serious comment, and my response is similarly facetious, getting offended is called “having thin skin.” Personally, I think the idea of someone being petrified of miso soup is pretty funny, and all it would take is one such person for there to be a real word to that effect.

  3. PPS: If you wanted to get really technical, “misophobia” wouldn’t be a fear of soup of ANY kind as “miso” is a paste made from fermented soybeans and does not have to be in soup form.

  4. Errr… before we got off on verbiage and Klingonese, I believe the question was one of civic mindedness gone rampant into zealotry. Jack is completely correct in that there is no way to render any public establishment- where food is being served and where diverse people pass through on a continual basis- the equivalent of a sterile operating room.

    Naturally, any such establishment should maintain the highest practical health standards for its customers… with the emphasis on “practical”. Likely, this woman did find a badly maintained play area. I’ve seen them, too. The good citizen’s approach would be to speak politely to the manager, on the first assumption that it’s an oversight or the result of a busy day. Failing in that, one should drop a message to the district office. THEN to civil health authorities.

    It appears that Mrs. Carr-Jordan was either so emboldened by a taste of power that she decided to build a movement around herself or intended this as a foot-in-the-door to notoriety from the beginning. (This has much in common with Stage Mother Syndrome, BTW!) It wouldn’t be the first time that someone has risen into the public eye through extortion disguised as civic mindedness.

    I’m no great fan of McDonald’s, mind you. But I despise this sort of cheap self-promotion even more.

  5. I think people like Carr-Jordan should be forced to work at a McDonald’s for a while. She will get over her need for sterility. People like her are the ones that cause the rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to skyrocket and leave us with a generation of children with no immune system. Children need to be exposed to dirt and germs so that their immune system can learn to deal with it and also learn what is normal. If not, the immune system will regard every speck of dust, mold, and pollen as an invader and attack (allergies). You are only harming your child if you protect them from these things, you want to harm MY child if you want to keep me from doing it.

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